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Ex-HK OFW with contagious disease seeks help for treatment

07 September 2022

By Daisy CL Mandap


Michelle stayed at Eastern Hospital for 2 days, during which she underwent all sorts of tests

When 27-year-old Michelle C. Casogoc arrived in Hong Kong on April 21 this year, she, like thousands of other Filipina migrant workers before her, had only one thing in mind: to provide for a better future for her family. 

Little did she know that less than four months after she would be diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis, a viral infection with symptoms that usually last for only two weeks, but in her case, dragged on for more than two months that she was forced to return home on Aug. 27.

Now, she is stuck at home with the little money she had brought with her all used up for doctor’s consultation and related expenses, but remains sick.


She had thought that because she lives in Pampanga she could easily get into the OFW Hospital there and be treated for free, but was told she needed to make an appointment to be seen – and because of the long queue, the earliest she could schedule a consultation is next month.

Before leaving Hong Kong, Michelle said she went to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration office but was only assured of someone picking her up at the airport in Manila, and taking her home.

In going to the Hong Kong International Airport, she would have been on her own, if it were not for some kind-hearted fellow domestic workers from the group, Social Justice for Migrant Workers, who took her there.

Thanks to the group, as well as Social Welfare Attache Rem Marcelino, she managed to go home with $1,000 in her pocket. This was soon gone, though, as she sought to follow up on whatever medical assistance could be given her by the government when she got back home.

Apart from having her escorted to her home in Pampanga from the Manila airport, she said all that OWWA Hong Kong told her was “to reach out to OWWA Region 3 for medical and financial assistance" despite her saying that she could no longer work, and needed to get treated immediately.

But to her extreme disappointment and frustration, Michelle said she was told by the OWWA regional office that she needed to undergo another round of medical tests she had to pay for herself, so she could be issued a medical certificate by a Philippines-based doctor.

Nagpa check-up naman ako ako pero ang sabi ang kailangan ko ay infectious disease specialist at baka I biopsy po ako. E kaya nga ako nanghihingi ng medical assistance dito dahil hindi ko kayang magbayad sa specialist, pati mga lab tests, pero yun ang gusto nilang mangyari,” she said in a message.

(I did go for a medical check-up but I was told (by OWWA) that I need a referral from an infectious disease specialist who might carry out a biopsy test. But that’s precisely why I am seeking medical assistance. I don’t have the means to pay a specialist, or for lab tests, but that’s what they want me to do.”)

Last Monday, she tried her luck again, and appealed to the regional OWWA staff to get her seen by a specialist doctor, but was told that she needed to spend her own money to get the referral that they needed.

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Ang dami nilang pinapagawang test, hindi ko na alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos para dito,” said Michelle, in utter frustration. (They want me to undergo so many tests when I don’t even know where to get the money for it).

The first of many tests OWWA wants her to undergo in the Philippines, for which she paid P1,300

Galing na naman po ako ng doctor, nire-refer na naman ako sa neurologist dahil sa tagal daw ng sakit ko e either na mild stroke ako o naapektuhan na ang spinal cord ko. I- CT scan daw ako ulit pero wala na akong pambayad. Wala na ba talagang magagawa ang OWWA? Bakit ganito kahirap makakuha ng medical assistance?”

(I just went to see a doctor again, and I was again referred to a neurologist. I was told that since I have been sick for a long time, I might have suffered a mild stroke or my spinal cord might have been affected. They want me to do a CT scan again but I have no money to pay for it. Is OWWA really unable to help? Why is it this difficult to get medical assistance?”

She also wonders why these are all necessary when she had three doctors in Hong Kong confirming her diagnosis, along with a medical certificate from the Hospital Authority.

Michelle's ailment is written clearly in the medical certificate from HK's Hospital Authority

Michelle is clueless how she came down with infectious mononucleosis, as she had always passed the annual medical check-ups required by the company she used to work for in the Philippines.

Also, she had been in Hong Kong for four months, far too long for the virus to have shown up if she got infected in the Philippines. This could only mean that she was infected in Hong Kong, but as to who or how it was passed on to her, remains a mystery.

Medical websites say the disease is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is one of the most common infections, especially among adolescents, but its symptoms like swollen lymph nodes and liver as well as high fever, manifest only in a few people.


Mononucleosis is often called the “kissing disease” because it is known to spread through kissing, or the exchange of saliva. But it could also be acquired by sharing drinks and food with someone infected.

On hindsight, Michelle realizes that she could have asked help from other migrant support groups so she could have stayed for a few more weeks in Hong Kong while awaiting a full diagnosis, but as she explained: “Hindi ko po alam ang mga procedure dyan.” (I didn’t know how to get this procedure done).

All she is hoping for now is to get help from OWWA or any OFW support group or agency so she can be treated immediately.

In a statement she was hoping to send as an appeal to OWWA, Michelle said she started feeling dizzy, tired and weak at around the start of July. But she just took a paracetamol then because she was busy and she thought it was just a regular ailment.

But on July 23 she felt a lump in her throat which hurt, so she decided to see a doctor. That was when she was diagnosed with “right posterior cervical lymphaneditis” or infectious mononucleosis and given antibiotics for five days. She was told the symptoms would go away after two weeks, but they didn’t.

Instead, her dizzy spells worsened, and her stomach began to ache as well, because it turned out, her liver had also swelled up. She consulted another doctor on Aug 8 and she was told to go to a hospital.

That same day, she was admitted to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital where she was subjected to all sorts of tests, then discharged after two days. She was given only pain relievers and was told the laboratory results would be released on Sept 9.

She was told there was no cure or vaccine for her disease, and she should just wait for the symptoms to go away.

After hearing the diagnosis, her employer asked that they mutually terminate their contract. But it was not an easy parting, as her employer had initially insisted on Michelle signing an undertaking that she would pay $30,000 in compensation to cover the costs of hiring her from the Philippines, including the agency fee and other expenses.

Michelle, who is assertive, having worked as a call center agent in the Philippines before coming to Hong Kong, balked. After consulting some leaders in the community, she managed to convince her employer that what she was being made to sign was illegal and could get both of them into trouble.

But she agreed on the mutual termination as she could no longer work properly and was afraid of passing on her illness to her employers and their eight-year-old daughter.

Michelle also felt sorry for her employers as they were left in a lurch, after paying a lot of money to bring her to Hong Kong. Also, her male employer is a friend of her father, who also used to work here as a migrant worker.

But all of that is in the past. All she wants now is to get herself treated so she could get well enough to start building up hopes for herself and her two young children again.

Those who want to help Michelle pay her medical bills may transfer money directly to her Alipay account, through the QR code below:

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